When Flaws Are Strengths

I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. For a large portion of my adult life (say, ages 25 to 40) I thought this uncertainty was probably not good. Shouldn’t I have a plan? Maybe an advanced degree?

Every time I find myself in-between jobs, I have a minor existential career crisis, like now. But this time is a little different. I now realize that for me exploration is much more valuable than strict, focused planning.

As I get older, I am learning that some of my “flaws” are actually my strengths. Take introversion. It used to seem like a terrible handicap, especially when looking for work. But it turns out many introverts make better leaders, public speakers, and creative thinkers than extroverts, on the whole. I now see that being an introvert has not hindered my success, it has actually helped it. I’m never going to be totally comfortable in unstructured social situations, and too much interaction wears me out. But that’s who I am, so I build in days when I can basically be a hermit and recharge. I really do like spending time with people, but in small doses.

Another thing I used to consider a weakness is my inability to commit to a long term goal. I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up because I’ve never made a long term plan. It’s recently come to my attention that the Best Things that have happened in my life have been decided upon and planned instinctively. If I try to force myself into a plan… I fail, or don’t end up with the results I wanted, or don’t fully apply myself. I can’t play by someone else’s playbook. I have to make up my own.

Thinking about the future in terms of what’s next — as opposed to some final destination — allows me to keep learning and exploring and growing in the world as it is now. If I had tried to plan a career 20 years ago that would be relevant today, I would have had absolutely no idea what would be possible. Staying open-minded has helped me to stay relevant in a rapidly changing economic and technological landscape.

On the other hand, this flexibility means I’m less likely to be a perfect fit for many roles out there. There aren’t many Kitty-shaped slots in the universe, and I can’t say, “In five years I want this job title.” In five years I want a job title that hasn’t been invented yet, and this whole work thing is an exploration, not a destination.